Gratitude, Tennessee Football, Temptation, Worship, and Consumption

About a month ago, we spent a Saturday at Neyland Staduim.   It kind of reminded me of church. There was a processional, the band leading us down the Vol Walk.   There were pilgrims from all over sharing food and drink. People donned specialized orange clothing demonstrating their devotion.   We sang special anthems like our hymnal tells us “sing lustily and with courage. Beware of singing as if you are half dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.”   We sang old traditional songs from the heart “Rocky Top you will always be home sweet home to me. Good old rocky top.”   They greeted each with a liturgy “Go Vols” and “Go Big Orange” They chanted “Oh it’s great to be a Vol” . They hung banners and wore shirts borrowing from maybe too much from the Scriptures “I will my give all for Tennessee Today”


There were a few differences from church. No one seemed to mind that the game lasted 4 hours. The average televised game time is 3:26 minutes or 20 minutes longer than an untelevised game. No one minded that were long slow periods. No one mentioned that there is only about 12minutes of live action in any game with the other 3 hours and 14 minutes consumed with rest breaks and organizing for the next play.


Neyland Stadium should be on any sports fans bucket list.   It is a lot of fun.  However, beyond the fun, tradition and fellowship what does the game mean? When the Vols win another national championship what change will hat effect in your life? Will we get a few new t-shirts, orange checkerboard overalls, bumper stickers, or a new state issued license plate? There will be a story about a guy who painted the den orange while his wife was visiting her mother?   Will you hold bragging rights over Alabama? Will the peace that surpasses understanding guard your hearts and minds? Will your soul find rest? Will forgiveness, grace or courage take root?

What are the eternal consequences of our games, concerts, or weekend getaways?    

Do our entertainment mega-events usher us into the eternal realms?

Do they plumb the soul’s lowest depths or stir us to love divine?


What makes something worship? Is it the pageantry? Is it the bells? Is it the band? Is it the splendor and show? Or is worship something deeper residing inside and simultaneously beyond us?


Rich Mullins- If I Stand There’s more that rises in the morning than the sun

And more that shines in the night than just the moon

It’s more than just this fire here that keeps me warm

In a shelter that is larger than this room


And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiments

And a music higher than the songs that I can sing

The stuff of Earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things


There’s more that dances on the prairies than the wind

More that pulses in the ocean than the tide

There’s a love that is fiercer than the love between friends

More gentle than a mother’s when her baby’s at her side


When do you stop and worship? How often do we pause to look beyond ourselves to Eternal?

What directs your focus upwards the Giver of all Good Things? When do you touch the eternal? Where do you stop and give thanks and praise for something bigger than yourself? When does your soul check in with the Lord-Judge- and Giver of All?


As Jesus began his ministry, Matthew 4 tells us “ Again, the Slanderer took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” the Tempter said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Adversary! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” Then the Tempter left him, and angels came and attended to Jesus. (Matthew 4)


If we see the devil as a fire truck red beast with two horns, two hooves, a forked tail and smelling of brimstone, we may miss allure of the devil’s temptation. Who would bow down to such a disfigured pitchfork toting super villain? Our conceptions of the tempter aside, let us consider the temptation because it still comes to us today. The temptation goes like this “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. All this I will give you.”  This pitch is made every day by the educational, marketing and business lords of our materialistic culture. The culture preaches: success more than spirituality, economics more than ethics, pleasure more than principle, “self” more than society, goods more than goodness,  and money more than morality. The world, our schools, our markets, our politicians, our TVs almost shout: “live for splendor, strive for the splendor.”


In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” Harry confronts the evil and the stereotypically ugly Voldemort who woos Harry:   “don’t be a fool. Why suffer?   There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it. Together, we will do extraordinary things.” Live for the splendor, live for yourself! Live for the splendor for power, position, and privilege that is what matters!


The tempter and his marketing teams still whisper “do not come to serve, you are too glorious, too important, too amazing to serve. You were made not to serve but to be served.   You are made for more than washing feet, cleansing leprous skin, welcoming strangers, feeding the hungry, housing the poor, or forgiving an enemy. You were made to hang out with dukes, earls and princesses not the least, lost and last. You have earned rich food, royal robes, diamond bedazzled crowns, and a luxurious castle. Live for the splendor! Take what is yours! Serve yourself!”


Matthew’s word for “serve” means a hired servant, one who works for hire, a paid employee. Our splendid temptation is to hire out our souls. Do we offer our souls to something less than God? Do we worship and serve false and lesser gods?    AT Robertson the great Greek scholar points to Matthew 6:24 as the key to understanding Jesus’ temptation: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).


Do we hire out our souls to things less than God?

Are we People of deep worship- of whoa- of silence before our God-of Wonder?

Are we consumers seeking the splendor- spending our lives of things that wear out?

Will we spend our lives in grateful praise or constant consumption?


Consider thanksgiving, that wonderful simple day of thanks is being overrun by buck-aneers waving a Black Friday flag.   You have to wade through a lot of Fa-La-La to find the story of our savior born in a manger during the Christ-mas season.     One car maker has renamed the whole Holiday -Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza after the name of their car calling it “The season of (____)”

How can we overcome the daily well-packaged temptation to bow to Materialistic Gods? How do we resist hiring out our souls to the splendor?


Jesus beckons us away from our splendid materialistic idolatry by calling out- “Away from me, Adversary! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and be employed by God alone.”

How do you want to employee your time, talents and energy?

How can you resist hiring your soul to something less than God?


Worship calls us back from Black Friday to Thanksgiving.   Worship says focus on Jesus more than Santa’s splendor. Worship reminds us not to hire out our souls to anything less than God. Worship aligns us with the Giver of all Good things. Worship grounds us in the things that matter. Worship takes our focus off of our own self-interest and directs our souls towards God Almighty. Worship moves us from the day to day grind and beckons us towards the eternal and divine.


Worship calls us up towards God Almighty. Paul penned: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) When do focus on praise, truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, love, and excellence? When do we stop spending our lives and return our deepest thanks and praise to God?


Worship is not about having our needs meet.   Worship centered in our needs is not transcendent, holy, beyond, grand, glorious or transformational. Worship centered in my needs does not transport me upward to God- it lingers in the lower stuff of my needs.  Focusing on our likes during worship is not keeping with the Spirit of Christ who said “I did not come to be served but to serve”. Indeed needs-based worship may be idolatrous. Jesus proclaims “Worship the Lord, and serve God alone”


True worship moves our focus from our human needs back towards God-the Giver of all Good Things. It beckons us to look up, look beyond, and look towards eternity. Worship turns us away from our sin, brokenness, and failures towards God’s love, forgiveness, sacrifice, mercy, mortality, beauty, generosity, and peace. Like a divine GPS true worship whispers “recalculating” and directs us back to God’s path, back to the cross.


True worship calls us from the splendor and awakens our spirits to salvation. It is hard to be thankful when we strive after the splendor. When we live to consume we are always reaching for the next best thing. There is meager gratitude in consumption. Will we spend our lives or receive God’s gift of life?


Will you not stop hiring out your soul to activities and goods less than God?

Will you slow down enough to give thanks?

Will strive after what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is pure, what is lovely, what is admirable—excellent and praiseworthy?


The funniest thing happens when we stop and offer praise and thanks to God- our needs get met! When we stop consuming, worship, and offer thanks our lives are renewed: gratitude grows, we delight in the small things, peace works into our understanding, enjoyment overcomes our consumption, the lost image of God re-emerges inside our souls, thankfulness washes away weariness, spirituality redefines success, and God reclaims our sold-out souls. Come let us worship the Lord, come ye thankful people, come- Come: Worship and Serve God Alone. Amen.

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